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Ross Ramsey

Ross Ramsey is executive editor and co-founder of The Texas Tribune, where he writes regular columns on politics, government and public policy. Before joining the Tribune, Ross was editor and co-owner of Texas Weekly. He did a 28-month stint in government as associate deputy comptroller for policy and director of communications with the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Before that, he reported for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald, first on the business desk in Dallas and later as its Austin bureau chief, and worked as a Dallas-based freelance business writer, writing for regional and national magazines and newspapers. Ross got his start in journalism in broadcasting, covering news for radio stations in Denton and Dallas.

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What the Hell Happened Over There?

You know it's an upset when the winner, the loser and the allegedly dispassionate observers are all surprised on Election Day. Nobody even came close to predicting the result of the GOP primary in the 3rd Senate district. In fact, operatives in both campaigns were expecting a runoff and hoping, respectively, for a narrow win that would avoid an April contest.

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This One's His Own Best Friend

If you haven't heard of David McQuade Leibowitz, you haven't been in front of a television set in Bexar County, Texas. The San Antonio trial lawyer is mounting a Democratic primary challenge against Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who won office in a special election in November. And if money is the mother's milk of politics, Leibowitz is one big, big baby: He's loaned himself $429,000 and a boatload of that money is going into television advertising.

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Open to Everything But Vouchers

Rep. Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, has politically remade himself a couple of times. He was an elected member of the State Board of Education in the mid-1980s when reformers led by Ross Perot successfully pushed the idea of an appointed board. Having lost that job, he ran for the state Legislature, where he was in the middle of the education reform and school finance wars waged from the late 1980s into the 90s. Then he became something of a partisan, a move that cost him some of his clout and that he's apparently ready to abandon. He says it was fun, but he wants to go back to the education concerns that attracted him to government in the first place.

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Gov. Bush, Sen. McCain and Mr. Jones

Will voters in California buy another George W. Bush transformation, or will John McCain be more persuasive with his drumbeat about things like the Texas governor's appearance at Bob Jones University in South Carolina? McCain got a win in Michigan while pounding Bush for intolerance, a charge that temporarily stuck in spite of Bush's reputation here as a Republican who can attract more than the GOP's traditional share of votes from Hispanics, African-Americans and women.

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The Law of Unintended Consequences

A reform aimed at John McCain's conversion of campaign money from his Senate account to his presidential account could affect the future plans of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and others who have entertained the notion of someday running for state offices. In the days leading up to the South Carolina primaries, Gov. George W. Bush proposed ending the conversion of funds from one federal political account to another. As the Bush forces like to say, the biggest contribution in McCain's presidential campaign is from McCain's Senate account. The argument is a long-winded way to tie his shoelaces together on campaign finance reform.

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way...

The Republican presidential primary might turn out to be a race between incoming votes for the candidates on one hand, and public and press scrutiny of U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona on the other. He hid in the sun until late in the race, protecting himself from the kind of intense attention that can kill an insurgent campaign, and the Bush folks didn't have him on their radar until he was well into the fight. They were paying attention to Steve Forbes, the spoiler four years ago. McCain is benefiting at this stage from voters' willingness to look at something fresh. He might hold up just fine when people begin to look more closely. Or, he might turn into Ross Perot, who was initially attractive to the press and the public before close attention revealed his quirks and drained his support.

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Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map

The overriding issue of the next legislative session quietly starts its 10-month road show this week in Abilene with the first public hearings on redistricting. The House and Senate committees will collect opinions about what should and shouldn't be split geographically around the state, a record that will be used in the court battles that will almost certainly follow the next Legislature's final decisions on the state's political fence lines. Some members think that public testimony will be important in court. Some think it will be completely ignored once the pencils are put away in favor of ink pens.

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Meanwhile, Back in Texas...

Maybe a little sympathy is in order here. Gov. George W. Bush is running for president, and naturally enough, would like to have things running smoothly back on the home front, where the government is dominated by his own party and where the executive branch is populated mostly by his own appointees. But even with all the watchdogs, things have been bumpy on the finance front.

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A Man on the Hot Seat

Within about 24 hours, Rodney Watkins, an insurance agent from Mineola, pulled his name off the ballot and then agreed to let it stay on, and then called it off again. Watkins, who owns a growing insurance business with offices in Austin and Waco as well as in his home, decided at one point that business matters should dominate his time and energy, and that's apparently what he finally decided.

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You Can't Win If You Don't Play

The Democrats were spinning hard when they announced their overall ballots on the third day of the year. Chairman Molly Beth Malcolm answered just about every question with a variation on "We are rebuilding and we are focussed on the House, the Senate and Congress." Flip the question and ask Democrats if they were happy to have a ticket without a head on it, or with a head on it that consists mainly of five political nobodies who aim to challenge the best-funded U.S. senator in the country, and they concede that, well, yes, that does sound sort of goofy.

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Crayons, Politics, Idle Speculation

Scotch the notion, which was being knocked around in the mostly idle Pink Building last week, that a delay in redistricting would automatically keep the current maps in place for a few more years. Those maps are generally considered to be favorable to Democrats. A judge could leave those plans in place, but the changes in the state's population have been so extensive that it would be a tough decision to defend. The current plans are probably burnt toast after this next set of elections.

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Campaign Finance: Some Assembly Required

A new law requires candidates to file their campaign finance reports "by computer disk, modem, or other means of electronic transfer." A little twist in the law requires the Texas Ethics Commission to post the reports on the Internet for all of Texas to see, but to first strip out street addresses of contributors, ostensibly for reasons of privacy and piracy. The law also says people can get the reports by showing up at the ethics agency and requesting them.

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Testing the Teflon

The national press, in particular the political press corps from the city of Washington, D.C., thinks the Texas press has left a lot of food on the table when it comes to Gov. George W. Bush. There's been talk, as the saying goes, the gist of which is that the local folks have been very easy on the state's chief executive and that it will take the heat of a national race to cook out the truth.

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What's Big and Slowly Graying?

We liked it better when stories about baby boomers were about hip-huggers and greasy hair and loud music, but the most self-centered generation in modern America is getting old. That ain't news in and of itself, but it presents a whole slew of things for people in government and business to think about and Texas actually has dispatched a team to start doing some of that thinking.

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